Friday, April 09, 2010

The End of Reformed Evangelical OT Scholars

As a biblical scholar of a Reformed Evangelical persuasion, I confess that I find myself scratching my head about what is happening in North American circles with respect to biblical studies, particularly the Old Testament. First, there was the Peter Enns affair at Westminster. Now truth be told I'm not sold on Enns' model of applying the incarnation to Scripture (J.I. Packer and John Webster have given reasons for rejecting that model), but Enns' attempt to situate the Old Testament in the context of ANE literature is fairly standard and uncontroversial in Christian circles outside of North America. Second, we have this week seen the resignations ( = dismissals) of two of the most eminent Evangelical Professors of biblical studies in the USA, Bruce Waltke and Tremper Longman, from their adjunct posts at Reformed seminaries. Waltke resigned in order it seems to become embroiled in controversy because he asserted in a video that evangelicals should embrace evolution as being consistent with the biblical accounts of creation and Longman was fired because he stated in a video that belief in a historical Adam was not necessary. The story about Waltke even made the news at USA Today (HT Camden Busey) and Christianity Today. Then there is the very critical response made by Vern Poythress of Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia to John Walton's book, The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate, which Poythress says "makes unsound claims" about creation. Combine this with the vituperative responses made against the writings of N.T. Wright and the chorus of rebuke at John Piper for inviting Rick Warren to speak at the Desiring God Conference, all coming from Reformed circles, and you have a clearly discernible trend. This trend is what I simply have to call a Fundamentalist Resurgence in what were once historical Evangelical Denominations and Institutions.

I suspect that this resurgence is driven by two main factors. First, fear of liberalism and fear of upsetting one's constituency. All Evangelical organizations face the temptation of drifting leftward and the laity in many churches do a good job of not tolerating speakers and teachers who dig at that "ol tim religion". Rocking the boat on controversial issues can also lead to funding problems and student numbers shrinking in seminaries. Still, the Evangelical churches have always regarded views of creation as a secondary matter, at least in the parts of the world I've lived in (UK and Australia). What is more, Waltke and Longman have impeccable credentials in having a high view of Scripture and are at the forefront of their discipline and are widely respected as scholars and churchmen. I would add that the job of Christian professors is not to tell the laity what they want to hear (whether that's on healthcare or science or Bible versions), but to assist students, pastors, and churches to have a "faith seeking understanding" and to help bridge the academy and church divide. Second, I think a bigger factor is that leaders in some Reformed institutions like to be perceived as "saviours" of orthodoxy. Luther saved us from Roman Catholicism and J.G. Machen saved us from liberalism and we want to be like them. But how can you be a "saviour" when there are no Catholics or Liberals in your midst? Well, you have to do the next best thing and find some villains that you can save the masses from. The easiest option is to find issues that are controversial and secondary and then proclaim that they are not disputed and not secondary and there is only one correct answer and all other answers are "heretical". Write blog posts, publish books, and hold conferences to convince a closed circle of followers that you and your homeboys are the guardians of the true orthodoxy. Please note that I'm being hyperbolic and cynical here (always imagine me smiling when I write things like this), but the "saviour syndrome" clearly exists in Reformed circles and it seems to be something that is unique to Reformed Evangelical Circles too. I think the response to Waltke and Longman is a mix of both one and two. Some leaders genuinely not wanting to be controversial before a conservative constituency about evolution, which in North America has always been a major issue, but also a desire by some to be perceived and celebrated as a "saviour" of the true faith.

But is there a future for Reformed Evangelical Old Testament Professors in the USA? I'm starting to think that there probably is not. Not unless they restrict themselves to writing devotional works. Or perhaps they can survive only if they are willing to allow Systematic Theologians to provide them with a script to read on all critical and background questions to the Old Testament. That would meaning bowing before Systematic and Historical Theologians and allowing them to dictate the proper relationship of Ancient Near Eastern literature to the Old Testament, to determine the limitations of Science for explaining Creation narratives, to establish the proper meaning of Semitic and oriental languages, to legislate the sources and authorship and date of all Old Testament writings, and to state the proper significance of archaeological evidence relating to biblical places and persons. But who wants to do that?

Perhaps the chief irony in all of this is that B.B. Warfield, who is revered in some circles as a virtual emmanation of the Logos, was himself a believer in Evolution (or at least held do its compatibility with the Bible). So it seems that even B.B. Warfield (peace be upon him) could not teach in many Reformed Seminaries these days! Note, I'm not saying that theistic evolution is the model of choice. Yet special creation, theistic evolution, and progressive creation are all consistent with a Christian worldview and a high view of the Scriptures. I don't want to speculate about who certain colleges and seminaries will replace folks like Longman and Waltke with, however, we can safely assume that the brilliance of Longman and Waltke will be very hard to match. You don't replace guys like these by flicking through your rollerdex. The temptation will be to hire persons who are "safe" and tow the party line. Unfortunately, that could mean hiring academics who are satisfactory teachers and prosaic researchers, but who will parrot the standard mantras when required. That might not happen, but it will be the temptation. Yet the Reformed churches deserve the best evangelical academics that we have - biblical, godly, and confessional, combined with the qualities of being a dynamic teacher and cutting edge researcher - but that cannot happen if we narrow the field by making secondary issues primary points of doctrinal agreement. We need to recapture the genuine evangelical breadth of the Reformed churches and demonstrate the intellectual coherence of the Reformed Tradition. The opposite would be to narrow the definition of who is "in" and to retreat to hyper-conservative positions on contested issues. The departure of Longman and Waltke signify a move in the wrong direction.

119 comments:

ros said...

What happened to Tremper? I hadn't heard about that.

ros said...

Sorry, just read more carefully. It was the video. *sigh*

Admiral Mom said...

This is a crime. i'm speaking as a Reformed Christian teaching in a Baptist Seminary, HK Baptist. It's a truly sad day for evangelicals everywhere. Time to pull our heads out of our bums and do some repentance. In total agreement with your blog, Dr. Bird.

dopderbeck said...

Mike,

Having been an observer / participant in faith-science conversations in the U.S. in recent years, I agree whole-heartedly with your post. We evangelicals in the U.S. have not yet recovered from Fundamentalism. I hope some day we will.

Seumas Macdonald said...

Well said, Mike. I agree with much of your analysis, and more broadly the concerns you raise here about the treatment of OT Reformed Scholars in the current environment. It truly is a worrying matter.

pennoyer said...

Three quick points:

First, Drs. Walke and Longman are great Evangelical OT scholars, deserving of enormous respect. May their (very small) tribe increase!

Second, I'm all for the primacy of exegesis. However, I'm not sure why our biblical scholarship should not be informed by Systematic and Historical Theology in dialog fashion. That is part of reading "in context," and this dialog can point out important implications and consequences of our exegetical insights. Those disciplines can uncover problems with our understanding, problems that could be so significant that institutions may become concerned. (I am not saying that was the case here.)

Third, Dr. Poythress has the right to make a somewhat critical review of Walton's book on Genesis One. However, note that it was published in the "popular" World Magazine. I think this is a questionable move. If my memory serves, both Poythress and World Magazine were at the forefront of muckraking and controversy-stirring over what became the TNIV translation of the Bible. That was really much ado about nothing, but has now resulted in a generally excellent translation now being moribund. Is there a pattern here?

Ray Pennoyer

Nicholas T. Batzig said...

I marvel at the paucity of scholarship in this post Mike. Bandying terms around without any respect to historic definitions of hermeneutical principles or camps. It is so easy to set up strawman arguments by labeling those who disagree with you. Perhaps this would be more effective for your case if you actually did some discussions of principles like analogia scriptura. BTW, RTS brought Dan Timmer, a leading ANE scholar on last year. How does that square with your line of reasoning? Perhaps we have seen the end of Australian polemicists.

Gary Ware said...

Hi Michael,
It's easy to read this post and (even smiling) think that it implies that professional theologians should be left to carry out their work under the scrutiny of other professional theologians.
What troubles me is these men have had their credibility tarnished, (and by extension those who have disagreeed with them have also had their credibility questioned in posts such as yours) and not one charge has been laid or proved against anyone and considered by the churches to which they are accountable.
Publication, blog and press are not the church. And it is the church that determines what is orthodox belief and what is not.
What you've described (and the wider process) is taking place as a form of popular debate, with the results having ramifications at various levels, but no-where is the belief of particular churches being clarified.

Kevin Davis said...

It seems that the issue is as simple as this: there is a particular brand of confessional Reformed folk who include a historical Eden, with a historical Adam and Eve tempted by the serpent, within the boundaries of "essential" for the Reformed Christian faith. Waltke, Longman, Bird, and kinfolk believe that this is in the "non-essentials" category, with varying views on the historicity of Adam. I'm pretty certain that this will be a mute issue in a 100 or so years (with Longman the victor), but for the time being WTS and similar institutions have chosen to circumscribe the Reformed boundaries more narrowly than the rest of the Reformed world (conservative/evangelical, not just mainline/liberal). So, I would like to see some serious academic work -- conferences, book projects, journal symposiums, etc. -- dedicated to this particular issue, with the ecclesiastical ramifications in focus.

Matthew D. Montonini said...

Mike-

This trend is extremely worrisome and smacks of "censorship." Embedded within the discipline of biblical scholarship is the fact that disagreement will always take place. This is healthy and necessary. However, when certain circles predetermine what a scholar is to think and who they are to demonize, this violates the mandate to love God with our minds and our neighbors as ourselves(Mk 1.28-31).

Professors Longman and Waltke our two of the finest OT guys going and any institution would be lucky to have them. The reasons they were let go were not because they denied the resurrection, but because they had the nerve to question the mode of our primordial origins. To quote Paul, "may it never be!"

We are in danger of losing our prophetic call in the church to the world if we continue to 'major' in clearly 'minor' issues, and further we will lose some who will not be allowed to excercise their God given intellects due to fundamentalist demands. What a shame that would be.

Joe Rigney said...

Mike,

Not sure I follow you on this one. There do seem to be some fairly significant issues at stake. I'm thinking particularly of the historicity of Adam and common descent from Adam and Eve. Enns appears to deny both (see his recent series at Biologos) and Tremper thinks that's a legitimate option. That sort of decision in my mind has huge ramifications for all sorts of key doctrines.

I realize that Waltke clarified his video and affirmed the two points I mentioned above. However, he also said that to deny the reigning scientific interpretation on the origins of life and the universe is to become a cult (he also clarified that to some degree). And from what I read, he resigned, despite RTS desiring to keep him on board.

I guess my point is that your post makes it sound like the poor theistic evolutionists are being persecuted by the nasty, power-hungry fundamentalists with their heads in the sand (granting the smile on your face and all). But wouldn't you say that part of the problem is also that those who believe in young earth creationism are dismissed as cranks, fools, and anti-intellectuals, not only by the secular academy (which is at least understandable), but by fellow Christians who believe in progressive creation or theistic evolution?

In other words, rancor and wagon-circling isn't only a phenomenon of the "fundamentalists" in this debate.

Brandon said...

Mike,

Amen, brother! I am impressed at your prophetic ability to "know what time it is" and see the "signs of our times". As a student at a Reformed Baptist seminary in the States I can say that we experience the sort of phenomena you describe on a micro level.

E.g. Nearly all of our recent hires received their phd from our seminary, anyone not walking the party line is vilified and laughed at by one-sided group panels, and issues are often presented in black vs. white, us vs. them, conservative vs. liberal frames, which gives the perception to students that only "liberals" believe in theistic evolution, egalatarianism, question CSBI's inerrancy, read and use ANE texts, fight poverty and care for the planet, etc.

This mentality has driven several friends of mine away from Chrys altogether (obviously in combination with other things). And IMO is not fairly representing the Reformed tradition to my generation....Do you think Roger Olson's illustration of centered sets vs. bounded sets is helpful for making sense of all of this?

Daughter of Eve said...

Mike, I completely agree with you; you've nailed it.

I'm particularly concerned about the fate of OT studies in conservative reformed seminaries. What happens to the discipline when only systematicians and church historians need apply for the multiplying openings?

It's one thing to exist in an insular, self-funded world with an objective to train pastors in your flavor of Christianity. Fine. But seminaries now are degree-granting institutions whose students receive federal financial aid. They admit students who have many other goals than pastoral positions in conservative reformed denominations, and let's be honest, they have done so because they need their money. Those students rightly expect to emerge with degrees that have teeth. Where are the accreditors in all this as what was represented as education is now being soundly trumped by indoctrination, and campus witch hunts rule the day?

I'm also disturbed by the sudden disappearance of that highest of conservative reformed values, Truth. Genesis 1-11 can now be placed in a specific historical/literary context about which scholars know increasingly more. The problem is that in light of these, the relevant 17th c. understandings baked into the confessions don't hold up in the way that once did. Now what happens? Is it really the case that the confessionalists you describe are more committed to an erroneous understanding than the true one? What does that say about the value of Truth?

None of this is serving the advancement of the gospel. And that's the biggest shame.

Rick Wadholm Jr. said...

Thanks for the bombastic piece that oversimplifies just about everything. I am actually one of those OT Reformed fellows who believes the issues of historicity in Genesis has huge ramifications (if we are actually consistent with our beliefs elsewhere...though thankfully we are not so internally consistent) for the totality of our theology and practice. I appreciate the work of such men as Walton (whom I am actually writing my thesis in primary interaction with), Waltke, and Longman (whom I have read widely and am taking a class with in a few weeks). I love and appreciate the work of these men even when I vehemently disagree with certain of their proposals. I'm quite surprised to know that any school is opposing theistic evolution (or its ilk) from being taught in this day and age where THAT is actually the "fundamentalism" among OT/Hebrew Bible folk. I am actually in the minority in this regard and the likes of Walton, Waltke and Longman are actually in the majority position. It seems though that you have blown this way out of proportion yourself. Not sure you have all of the evidence (nor really even very much of it) in regard to the exit of these several OT fellows.

While I agree that the doctrine of creation is not in the same place as the doctrine of Christ, yet it is central if we are actually consistent with our hermeneutic and theological understanding and practice.

I was actually somewhat surprised to discover you are a "fundamentalist" of the Old Earth pursuasion...oh well...I still consider you a brother in Christ and a gift to the Church. Many blessings to you (and Walton, Waltke and Longman).

Andrew Faris said...

Mike,

Interesting stuff, and I'm not totally sure where I come out on it. On the one hand, it seems that the NT explicitly affirms that Adam was a real person who really sinned. Doesn't the argument of Romans 5 assume it, at least? But then, if Longman has a high view of Scripture (which of course he does) and is trying to maintain exegetical integrity, how does he or any others deal with really trying to go where the text takes him in both Genesis and Romans?

So really what this brings up is the broader issues of analogy of Scripture and the relationship between exegesis and systematics, etc.

That said, there is actually another, lesser known example of this same kind of issue: John Sailhamer had been teaching some classes at Talbot, where I went. Some friends of mine took him and loved his class, and apparently he explicitly wanted to be a member of the full time faculty. But his views on the OT authorship and "the Canonicler" and the like make his view of Scripture just enough in both agreement and disagreement to Talbot's doctrinal statement that they let him teach some classes without actually making him faculty. I think they classified it as a "visiting professor" type deal. I don't know if it was his sickness or Talbot's decision that ultimately made it so that he is no longer teaching there at all. What a shame for a program that has, frankly, such an otherwise weak OT department.

Andrew Faris
Christians in Context

jaredmcompton said...

Mike,
I've not read any report saying Waltke was fired. Rather, all the reports I've read suggest he resigned. In fact, one suggested RTS refused to accept his resignation at first. Can you confirm that he was indeed fired?

John Hobbins said...

Why call it a "Fundamentalist Resurgence" when actual Fundamentalists like the Hodges, Warfield, and Machen held views compatible with those of Waltke?

Those who draw the lines in such a way as to put Waltke and Longman beyond the pale are the innovators, not the other way around.

Tim G said...

I have to say I find this post rather unhelpful. Simply because the doctrine of creation hasn't been seen as crucial in your geographical locales does not make them normative for anyone. Moreover, lumping together various sorts of so-called "attacks" as if all were equal is not helpful either. Peter separated from the Gentiles; that was bad. Paul told the Corinthians to separate from the man who committed adultery with his father's wife; that was good. Some self-conceived defenses of the faith are thoroughly misguided - but certainly, defenses of the faith there must be.

You further confuse the issue by acting as if it's all about systematic theology and historical theology dictating to OT theology. That's clearly not the case. Belief in evolution does not derive from the Old Testament, and systematics profs and historians are just as likely to get that wrong as OT specialists are (if not moreso). The problem I have with Waltke's position is not that it fails some arcane systematics test; it's that it fails basic exegesis. It places overweening scientific claims in a position of authority they do not deserve.

As much as I respect a lot of your work, this post is way off base. Sorry.

Joel said...

I'm not sure the various cases should be lumped together too closely.

For instance, suggestions of polygenic human origins (and thus a denial of a historical Adam) bump up against certain kinds of evangelical commitments in ways that are distinct from Waltke's evolutionary monogenism (which might be seen as consistent with Adam's being taken from "the dust of the ground").

The former view is especially problematic (though not necessarily insuperably so) for varieties of Reformed theology grounded in a bi-covenantal architectonic in which both Adam and Christ are parallel federal heads.

So, while the cases of Enns, Longman, and Waltke are interrelated, they are also distinct. Watlke's decision to shift his energies to working with BioLogos may well have posed a different sort of problem for RTS than did Longman's openness to polygenism.

Whatever the details, what I find most curious is the way some of these recent developments seem to back away from what (in my experience) once were acceptable areas of disagreement and speculation. Varieties of "theistic evolution" have had quite a bit of currency in evangelical (and even confessionally Reformed) circles until quite recently.

mglodo said...

Please, please, everyone! Mike has not nailed it because he has no knowledge of the facts of what has happened at RTS. He read an article on the internet. Journalism? Scholarship? Please!

Michael F. Bird said...

I'm glad that the majority are in agreement with me in principle (even if we all differ on the events of Genesis 1 and the gravity with which we hold them).

I didn't mention which seminary it was, out of respect for RTS, but it seems like everyone can read between the lines. Let me say a few things. (a) The are clear differences between the temperments of the campuses of RTS and they should not be lumped together as monolithic entities. (b) I have colleagues and students who are RTS grads and they are very fine scholars and pastors (e.g. Jamie Grant of HTC). (c) There are some brilliant scholars at the RTS's including Michael Kruger and Charles Hill who are widely respected outside of evangelical circles for their work. I count Bruce Lowe of the Atlanta campus as a good friend and a capable scholar. (d) I am open to correction if reliable sources are able to clarify or amend my understanding of the circumstances surrounding the departure of Longman and Waltke. (e) My primary motivation is lament and complaint rather than polemics.

So I confess that the last paragraph of my initial post was too polemical and I should not have speculated so brazenly about who a Seminary will hire to replace the duo (even though I fear that history may prove me right). But that was admittedly uncalled for, I apologize, and I have changed the post to reflect potential scenarios.

Still, I think my points remains valid, the departure of Waltke and Longman reflects a particular growing trend in conservative Reformed churches that is very disconcerting as it is reducing the scope of theological diversity within the churches. It is a trend that is needless as it is damaging to our corporate ecclesial life.

Dean Dough said...

Dear Michael,

As a former evangelical, let me do some of the polemicizing for you.

1. The kind of tumult over Drs. Waltke and Longman, brief though it may be in this case, will continue to be a permanent feature of Reformed evangelicalism, as it will of all other forms of Christian orthodoxy. This is either a consequence of spiritual warfare or a consequence of fundamental falsehoods at the root of Christian orthodoxy. The resulting defections from orthodoxy (or to put it more bluntly from an orthodox viewpoint, the resulting betrayals of Jesus) are either conquests of the devil over deceived Christians -- or eternally-condemned apostates. I'll let you fill in the part about reprobation -- or the painful discovery of the failings of cherished beliefs. Waltke and Longman's defections are exceedingly minor, considering what other features of orthodoxy are open to serious criticism.

No doubt both of them would be prepared to do to others what had been done to them -- out of charity to them both, only as a last resort -- if one of their colleagues publicly renounced other Reformed essentials, such as inerrancy. I understand that lines have to drawn somewhere and that theology is not like an exact science with an agreed methodology and standards of evidence. Hm, maybe that's why when theology and science have genuinely clashed over the last several hundred years, science has either already won or keeps adding to its lead, leaving the theologians to scramble for distinctions, qualifications, reformulations, more sophisticated hermeneutics, or in Michael Milton's case (not picking on him; he's just a convenient example of a whole class) stubborn, defiant ignorance. I realize I am being a bit hyperbolic. But be honest with yourself, why has this been happening? Is it the "strong delusion" or the progressive loss of them?

2. In the internet age nothing goes unnoticed for long; I wouldn't be surprised if P. Z. Myers or Richard Dawkins ends up commenting on this situation at some point in the near future. (And no, I'm not going to draw it to their attention.) Want to guess about their take? In short, this will be a public relations disaster -- and deservedly so.

Emerson Fast said...

Richard Dawkins might end up commenting on this...but who takes Dawkins seriously? The public, of course. But the public gets gung-ho every time Dan Brown publishes a novel about "the way things really are" with the church. If there will be slander, there will be slander. In the meantime, we bow our heads and continue the work of honest theological research.

Douglas Dobbins said...

There is a difference between Longman and Waltke. Longman is openly questioning (and denying positive belief in) the historicity of Adam. This of course is nothing new in scholarship. But as evangelicals, believing in the entirety of the canon, we know that Paul did believe in an historical Adam.

The Waltke affair is different. And, in time, when all the facts are presented, we will know better the reasons for his departure. Right now it does look as you described it.

You might need to clarify quickly your position on the historical Adam. It seems to me that, with Longman, you are saying it is a nonessential issue. If that is the case, then, on that issue, you are not holding an evangelical position. This is a pretty serious issue as well. And I think that many would disagree with you, both from a historical and biblical position, that Adam's historicity is nonessential.

Jimpithecus said...

As an evangelical and an evolutionary creationist, I had high hopes that the Reformed seminaries would be insulated from the radicalization taking place in fundamentalist evangelical circles involving origins issues. The young earth, anti-evolution position is becoming the default position, it seems. That is sad.

JDS said...

Amen, Tim.

Aquinas said...

Arrrgh! I fully agree---how ironic that Reformers of all are stifling academic freedom! I am an evangelical theology student considering a career in academia and I am already feeling that the US would be a bad option!

I hope someone is nailing 95 theses to the doors of Westminster Seminary!

"What is truth?" Editor: JB Epp said...

Scriptural teachings regarding the history of the universe are about as clear as scriptural teachings regarding the future of the universe. However, scripture is quite clear about the supernatural and special creation of Adam; and I think it likely that a majority of orthodox Christians would think it quite unorthodox to believe otherwise.

As for the theory of theistic evolution, it strains my sense of credulity to believe that evolutionary forces had much of anything to do with the development of complex life systems. Speaking as an organic chemist, I am exceedingly dubious that such incredible order can be arrived at by the powers of random selection and survival of the fittest. Faced with two versions of a miracle, I am going to give more weight to scripture and much less weight to science. It is possible that the universe is quite old and the theory of theistic evolution is quite false.

Pressiechurch.org said...

Given that those institutions serve confessional denominations (the WCF upholds creation in six days and a literal Adam) it is not surprising that they might expect their O.T scholars not to undermine the confessional standards that they believe reflect Scripture.

However, if you held similar views I can see why you might find this disconcerting.

Regards
Darren Middleton

Dean Dough said...

To Emerson Fast,

Take Dawkins seriously? I suppose too few who read this blog. That helps explain why Drs. Waltke and Longman got themselves in trouble.

But I understand the fundamental issue for most evangelicals is "What does Genesis mean?" On that basis, I think Waltke and Longman's critics are more likely right. The world was created in 6 24-hour days and "Adam" and Eve were historical individuals.

Next question: "Are these claims factual?" Most likely not, given the evidence available to us.

There's the whole problem in a nutshell. If you believe the Bible is inerrant, you have 2 choices: try to find a defensible interpretation of Genesis 1-2 that avoids making likely counter-factual assertions or try to find an interpretation of the natural world that matches the "normal" interpretation of the claims in Genesis 1-2.

Why can evangelicals not make significant progress on either of these fronts? Why is it that the small number of scientists who advocate for recent creationism or intelligent design can't come up with credible scientific explanations? Why do so many "evangelical" scientists end up embracing parts or the entirety of evolutionary theory?

Why do evangelical Biblical scholars keep trying to come up with sophisticated, non-literal reinterpretations of Genesis 1-2? The disputes over hermeneutical principles and their application generated by these ingenious reinterpretations is almost comical if it weren't such a waste of talent.

Those of you who believe this entire issue is a battleground between God and evil are welcome to your explanations. I opted for a simpler one: As time goes on and people study the matter it is becoming ever clearer that the claims of Genesis 1-2 are most likely false. Attempts to avoid this conclusion create more problems than they solve. Let this inform your understanding of God and his work in the world.

I wasted far too much of my own life chasing rabbits down these endless inerrantist trails to nowhere. I wish any of you who might be inclined to do the same in defense of evangelical "orthodoxy" would do yourselves a favor and give it up.

John Thomson said...

I am inclined to think that the most obvious interpretation of Gen 1-3 is a literal one. That being said, I can see sufficient literary techniques at work to be cautious; Gen 1-3 most naturally reads literally but may be mythological(parabolic)in some areas at least.

My problem is not so much Gen 1-3 per se but how Gen 1-3 is interpreted in the rest of Scripture. It is when I look elsewhere in Scripture that the parabolic/mythological interpretation becomes deeply problematic.

For example, Moses speaks of a literal six days creation. Jesus speaks of Adam and Eve as being 'in the beginning' suggesting not only their historicity but that their beginning was 'the beginning'. The genealogy of Luke traces Christ's ancestry to Adam. Paul in turn builds a whole theology of human sin on a literal Adam. These types of texts seem to compel a literal understanding of Genesis 1-3. I am not sure how they can be explained otherwise. If they can be I could sit more comfortably with 'old earth' interpretations.

Aquinas said...

@Douglas,

Well, I appreciate your view but do think we can be more nuanced than that (while maintaining integrity).
This was the subject of my last degree module (but one) and I was hugely impressed by much of John Walton's material---there seem to be clear Temple / Eden parallels going on which would have been clear to the early readers during the United monarchy (my preferred dating). Did they think it happened in literally 6 days---quite possibly---and to that extent we could say that technically / scientificly they were wrong---however I am struck by the value they placed on the significance and symbolism of numbers and there seem to be (eg See Gordon Wenham's WBC commentaries)those theological aspects that were going on such that we may just be asking the wrong question to ask where they Y.E. Creationists---that, in seems to me, would not have been the concern they were addressing---it is more concerned with polemical interaction with other ANE creation accounts. I hold to theistic evolution but urge people to consider all the clues we can as to what the text thinks of itself as. Both inerrantists (I am not one---closer to infalliblism) and non could agree on the need for that. As for historical Adam's etc---I just note the fact that Adam is not a personal name until Gen 4 and I just suspect there's room for man / adam to merge---this man stands as a archetype although there may also have been an actual man Adam who has become the bearer of this role. It is very likely Paul believed in an actual Adam---seems natural reading to me---and I am happy to live with ambiguity there and even the possibility he was just operating within the worldview confines he shared as a 1st c Jew. Jesus too? Logically / theologically---there had to be a first man qua man and thus in whatever way we want to handle this it would be true even if the Genesis texts are not quite historically / literally precise!
But...I don't lose sleep over this stuff!
All the best!

Aquinas said...

To all:-

Are "confessional" and "academically-free" oxymorons?

I suspect not but just wonder where we really need to draw lines. For example---are we more dogmatic than many in the period of the early church / fathers?

Douglas Dobbins said...

Aquinas,

Dr. Enns, in his video post at Biologos, said that "how Paul handles Adam does not determine modern scientific discoveries about the origin of humanity." This is an unclear statement. In that video blog, Enns states that "Paul certainly assumed that Adam was a person." But that was Paul reasoning as a "first century man." American Evangelicals have continuously affirmed that scripture uses ancient categories - categories which reflect particular first modes of thought. Nevertheless we have maintained the sanctity of authorial intent. Paul intended to describe a progenitor of humanity - Adam. Waltke believes this, Enns and Longman are agnostic on the issue. It seems, from Dr. Bird's post, that he believes there is liberty on this issue. Even if some evangelicals, particularly in Britain and Australia, believe that it is alright to say that, in some cases, authorial intent is no guarantor of truth, that does not make it so. Church history teaches us that sometimes only a few Sees believed in an inviolable truth, while the rest rejected it. Think of Alexandria and Rome in 335 A.D., while a majority of the bishoprics rejected Athanasius's insistance on the fully divine nature of the Logos. Simply because the UK and Austrailia have more elastic definitions of evangelicalism does not mean that they are correct.

Aquinas said...

@Douglas,

Thanks. I understand your points and I agree that we need to respect authorial intent, although--surely---even inerrantists will hold that the author may (as Peter affirms of prophets) only partially see the truth to which they point. Surely the ancient Isaelites actually throught (being pre-Copernican and all!) that the sun truly moved through the sky while earth was fixed? This was standard in ANE cosmology and yet we feel free to apply the insights of science in our interpretation of passages like Ecclesiastes 1.5 and Joshua 10.12-13 ! I do not see why we might not think of Paul as limited in his insights about origins. For me, we make a laughing-stock of evangelical faith by starting with a top-down a priori assumption that scripture cannot have any imprecisions, the assumption that God could not sufficiently produce scriptures that fulfill the doctrine of inspiration without having create another layer of protection for them---afterall--how do we know the doctrine of inerrancy is correct...because the bible tells us so?! That would be circular reasoning! I appreciate that its more uncomfortable having a position that is more in line with "infallibilism" (another unhelpful sounding word though) but I just think we have to accept scripture as we find it bottom-up. I welcome your further dialogue...I am still open to reviewing my position.

Regards,

Aquinas

Douglas Dobbins said...

The passages you cited provide phenomenological language to describe historical events. The sun standing still was intended to communicate that the sun shone longer than on a normal day. I do not think that the scripture, there, intended to communicate an interpretation of cosmology (do you?). Paul, in Rom 5, did intend to communicate an actual event involving an actual man. Enns believes that Paul, because of the limits of his first century knowledge, was incorrect in his intent. This is a far different matter than using phenomenological language.

This is why some comments are disconcerting. Waltke and Enns are not on the same page. Walke believes in evolution because he thinks Moses' authorial intent is not compromised in said belief. Enns believes that Paul's authorial intent was wrong, but God nonetheless used his eskewed knowledge to communicate a "theological" truth. Yet inerrancy is preserved when we uphold that God's message is the author's message. What Paul intends, God intends. I don't have time here to defend, in this brief space, why I believe that to be a faithful doctrine of scripture. But I think it is clear that Walke and Enns are not univocal. It seems to me that, if we permit ourselves to deny authorial intent, then we can dismiss not only history, but we can also say that Paul's ethical commands should not be applied to the present because they are merely those of a "fist century man." His exclusive rooting of salvation in Christ can also be dismissed because, again, he is a "first century man." Where else is theology rooted if not in authorial intent? You mentioned that it could be that God permitted "imprecisions" in the text, and perhaps we are apriori dismissing what God might have intended. But again, I want to root my understanding of truth in the text. Did Paul ever give signs that he knew what an "imprecision" was and therefore tried to avoid it? What about 1 Cor 15, where Paul's gospel, as he preached it, was intended to be precisely the same as that which he received. That is one, among many, clear examples of Paul knowing the difference betewen precision and imprecision, truth and contradiction.

Aquinas said...

@Douglas...

Good point about the phenomenological language...it looked from their vantage point like the sun stood still. However...I'd press this: they weren't just speaking from their vantage point of the experience they also believed (as ancients) did that the sun moved around the earth. They aslo believed the firmament was an actual dome etc (raqia)and held a common cosmogony to the other ancients. They were wrong on that and technically scripture passes on these errors but even that would not be a problem because inerrancy (according to Chicago) would only expect scripture to be reliable for the purpose it was given. This holds no difficulty for me whatsoever---just as it holds no difficulty for me to believe that Jesus in his human nature did not know things---was tired etc, probably believed in the same cosmology as his compatriots.

The problem with some people's approach is that they want to start with a theology of scripture that just assumes the sort of books God must have given us. The reasoning works like this:

1. God is perfect and is totally truthful and omniscient.
2. The bible is the word of God
3. Therefore the bible must be perfect and totally accurate in every regard.

I just don't think the conclusion 3 follows from 1 and 2. God can speak adequately to us through means that lack perfection.

Why can't we start at the bottom---see what kind of books scriptures actually are and then say---God has given us these and we recognise his authority in here. Afterall, why were many of the books accepted as canonical---because they checked passed a doctrine of inerrancy? No. Rather the criteria were apostolicity and the authority and testimony and recognition they carried. I am far happier making my stand for the scriptures on these kind of things.

Consider...too it is quite likely that the gospels have some errors (by today's standards I know) in terms of fr'instance when the cock crowed---if we accept what some harmonizers do we end up with affirmations NONE of the gospels claim--eg nine cock crows!! But did a cock crow? Sure! Did Peter deny Jesus? Sure! Is my confidence in the gospel narrative undermined on some kind of anxiety about slippery slopes? Not at all!

I'm kind of thinking out loud here---also using you as a way of bouncing off ideas of what I've been mulling over! Appreciate your dialogue! Let me know what you think!

Still open to persuasion and "creedal accountability"! ;) God bless brother!

John Thomson said...

Aquinas

It is precisely because of the high view that Scripture has of itself that I feel compelled to a doctrine of inerrancy. It seems an integral part of 'the faith' delivered to the saints'.

I would observe too that to understand something partially does not mean that what we do understand we have got wrong.

On the issue of phenomelogical language I do think we must take this into account, however, it is here I waver for I confess that some of what I may wish to call phenomenological others may with some justice wish to call scientific or factually intended. I would appreciate help on this point.

Aquinas said...

John,

Yep...happy to have a high view of scripture I just am not convinced scripture itself demands either inerrancy or especially the sort of inerrancy as conceived by some. Too many evangelicals, ironically (!), don't start with scripture on this---but with their confessional position and then try to make scripture fit that!

If the ancients including the biblical authors were not right about aspects of cosmology they were wrong just as 1+4=6 is wrong. It's nearer right that 1+2=6 but its still in error! But why should that trouble us---this was not the purpose for which scripture was intended!

Douglas Dobbins said...

The question is what is the relationship of the phenomenological language to the intent of its use? It is really difficult to percieve how Joshua's account of the sun was intended to communicate a view of astronomy. The intent seems to be that the sun shone miraculously longer than it normally did.

If Paul is using 1st century categories to describe Adam (which we both believe he was), then what is the relationship of those categories to Paul's intent in using them. Enns wants to say that the categories communicate truth, but not according to the intent of Paul.

It is important to realize that Paul's worldview has some continuity with our own. That is, he knew what a human being was, he realized that there were differing interpretations of origins: Plato's Forms, Greek and Roman Mythology, and he believed that they were incorrect and that Adamic origins were correct. Not only did he believe this, but he laid it down as the basis of some of his most important theological articulations.

I don't think we have the authority to impeach authorial intent. Concerning the Cock Crowing Argument, I am not persuaded that this has the punch that many think it does. I think this account generally falls into the normal method of telescoping events, a quite common practice and part of the intent of the author.

Douglas Dobbins said...

Aquinas, one last thing, you advocated "the purpose for whih scripture was intended." But it seems that this is the position of inerrancy - to hold true what was originally intended.

So which is it: is intent the inviolable principle? If not, what other way is there to take scripture on its own terms. It seems that the inerrantist position has the only verifiable way to take scripture on its own terms. That is, we desire to locate the author's intent. What other way is there to take scripture on its own terms? It seems to me that, if I want to take the letter to the Romans on its own terms, that means honoring Paul's original intent when he wrote it.

John Hobbins said...

It is well-known that evolutionists are their own worst enemies:

http://ancienthebrewpoetry.typepad.com/ancient_hebrew_poetry/2009/10/evolutionists-are-their-own-worst-enemies.html

But then, so are some conservative Christians. Obscurantist thinking is the hobgoblin of their minds.

jaredmcompton said...

Mike,
You've probably seen Justin Taylor's blog today. If not, he's got an update re: Waltke's resignation. For the sake of accurate reporting, it'd probably be best to remove "fired" from your original post.
jared

Aquinas said...

I don't quite follow the equation. I could accept Paul meant the Gen 2-4 Adam as a literal man and head of a genealogy but just because he intended it wouldn't make him right would it?

Aquinas said...

It would be interesting to know just what were the range of options / significance of adam were in the 1st c---do we know for certain (especially given Gen 1-4 mainly has adam without using it as a name) it wasn't used as an archetype?

Whatever Paul's intent however---why must we assume he had to be literally right?


What form of inerrantism do you buy? Do you consider that the texts have to be reliable in all detail---scientifically, every historical detail etc? If not-- when do we decide that our stretching the goal posts of "without error" has become so elastic that its really an ad hoc argument?

Further---given that we don't have the exact autographs and thus any actual inerrant texts what's the fuss for? God has not deemed it essential for even inerrantists to have inerrant texts!

Ian Packer said...

Every time I see the word 'deny' in these comments, I become worried. If it's not related to the Apostles' Creed, I'd be holding back on the 'deny' language.

Aquinas said...

@ Ian----??? Do explain!

Douglas Dobbins said...

Aquinas said: "just because he intended it wouldn't make him right would it?"

Dobbins's Reply: Yes.

Concerning the question as to where we draw the line, we draw it at the author's intent. What Paul or Isaiah intended, that is what we should believe. That is my understanding of what it means to allow the scriptures to speak for themselves.

If intent is not the criterion for verification, then what is?

John Hobbins said...

Great conversation.

You make it sound so easy, Douglas. It's not.

A simple example. A NT author said something like, "Greet the brethren with a holy kiss." The intent is quite obvious, but we all recognize that the intent is conditioned by context. It is accommodated to a specific cultural time and place.

Surely this is a general rule.

Expecting a kiss anytime now, on the right and left jawbones, please.

John Thomson said...

Douglas

Agreed.

The point that Hebrews (not to mention the rest of Scripture) constantly makes is that the words of Scripture are not the words of men but of the Holy Spirit. Hebrews never names the human author, only the divine.

We are in danger of forgetting the divine author - the Holy Spirit, the Spirit o0f truth.

Aquinas said...

Douglas---short of assuming inerrancy---why should I believe Paul is right on everything? Remember you're the inerrantist not me!

Aquinas said...

@John T :

You're quite right and yetan evangelical scholar like I. Howard Marshall (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I._Howard_Marshall) could accept that without accepting inerrancy. He would see himself as an infalliblist. So...you're gonna need to refine that argument some!

John Thomson said...

Aquinas

Perhaps its I H Marshall you needs to refine his.

Hebrews considers Scripture so accurate it bases Christ's priesthood on what Scripture DOESN'T say... without father and mother...

Douglas Dobbins said...

Aquinas wrote: "short of assuming inerrancy---why should I believe Paul is right on everything?"

Dobbins's reply: you should assume that what Paul intended to be accurate, actually was. Again this is not an apriori assumption. It is not that there are a list of options ranging from Paul is never right, Paul is sometimes right, and Paul is alwas right. Rather, what is right is simply what is intended. Did Paul believe that his intent should be honored? Take for instance the letters Paul wrote. He intended that they be read and believed. Some of his letters, he only intended some things to be honored and others were not commands. But it is clear that his intent can't be delimited to ethics or theological meaning. His intent also included people and events. So, I am not assuming that much. The nature of the inquiry is aposterior or inductive. That is, we let Paul's own intent form the basis of our inquiry. Thus, you can say that, if I have an apriori, that apriori is to allow the text to speak for itself.

A Christian exegete should seek to extract Paul's intent and believe it.

Aquinas said...

John T

Good to dialogue with a fellow Brit! I H Marshall is (or was) a scholar based in your neck of the woods (nearer to you than me, that is) up in Aberdeen.

Don't get me wrong, I do hold a strong belief in the reliability of scripture but I just don't feel the evidence leads me to the view that scripture is perfect in every minor detail. Thing is, even the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy does not demand that modern standards of historiography be met by the writers of the ancient world---but they are forced into this by the text as it is so that "inerrant" comes to mean something quite loose with a lot of scope for inconsistencies and imprecisions. But why bother erecting this pointless picket fence when really we can still affirm the manifest authority and power of scripture and its major historical accuracy overall without it? I suspect many inerrantists could wish God (and / or the church) had only left us one harmonized gospel---but 4 with the minor inconsistencies, I think, is far more powerful a witness and testimony to God's ability to work through imperfect recorders to give us a more than adequate witness to the Saviour.

Amen?

Aquinas said...

Douglas,

Fair enough and I should stress that I would in practice be sharing the same journey with you most of the way. We both accept Paul's authority as an apostle and the churches' (plural) historic and universal (more or less!) recognition of this in terms of canonicity etc.

When I recognise this though, I do not see that this requires that the human authors of scripture in all instances have a perfect view of things rather that God has seen fit to teach through them the things needful for our salvation and equipping (2 Tim 3.15).

With respect Douglas (recognising I am speaking with an intelligent brother here), it is not enough for us to invoke the intent or desire to be believed of an author (even apostolic) to render his thought true.

Paul could be quite wrong--in historical factual terms---about a historical Adam and yet clearly he'd think he was right.

My major issue,however, is not with X or Y specific content but rather with the logic or inerrancy.
What actually compels us to think that God must produce as an inspired book along the lines of 2 Tim 3.15 a work that is entirely free of human error?

We certainly don't have any actual inerrant texts (autographs) and there are so many minor historical issues (to keep Gleason Archer very busy) that the doctrine just seems SO vulnerable and unlikely.

I think the strongest argument that can be made is along the lines of Jesus holding scripture as inerrant on the basis of John 10.34 etc. But, I'm not convinced that that verse is is justifiably pressed into that kind of service--it is just as likely Jesus is doing his usual strategy of deploying people's own beliefs against them in argument. But, I confess, this verse is one I consider one of the stronger ones in the inerrantist's arsenal!! :)

However, Douglas, I am a theology student and engage in quite a bit of apologetic work with non-Christians and I just find that to defend every element of scripture as historically accurate becomes a stretch--what do I do? Do I say Jesus was wrong in John 10.34, do I re-interpret it or do I assert that really there are no actual inconsistencies in scripture? I sometimes despair at some of the ad hoc harmonizations of Geisler etc (although many I applaud).

Now---I know in terms of inerrancy we can say that inconsistencies might only occur in terms of modern historiographical standards but why bother with that? Why use a word like "inerrant" (pretty strong) but then stretch it with 1000 qualifications so that really we're saying "scripture has inconsistencies / imprecisions that the ancients could live with and thus its no error if it acheives that---it still serves the purpose for which it was sent" (paraphrasing Chicago)? Really that's not much different, in practice, from just saying---"yep there's a human mix in there and some things aren't quite right as we can now see---but God has still worked through this process to bring us a reliable text for the purposes he gave it" (infalliblism). I think the latter is more honest and---yep---it also relies on a measure of faith / a priori since there are things that cannot be empirically demonstrated yet I trust.

I am open to the idea that I may be wrong---and open to re-thinking. John 10.34 is probably my more vulnerable area! Just trying to figure out a way of integrity through these questions.

Thanks for the dialogue! Look forward to your reply!

Aquinas

Douglas Dobbins said...

We don't need to use the word inerrant. But I believe we need to affirm what inerrancy is seeking to safeguard. That is the impeachable character of anything the apostles and prophets intend to communicate.

I don't want to sound polemical in response to your statement: "Do I say Jesus was wrong in John 10.34." But a Christian should never say that Jesus was wrong.

There are things which we can't explain about scripture; I think most inerrantists would admit that. But part of trusting in God means trusting what He has written regardless of our present vantage point. This must be our fundamental posture before we seek to comport scripture with the objections of non-believers.

Since there is no verifiable way to find God's intent without referent to his Apostles and Prophets, we must seek to find God's intent in their intent.

You like the term infallibility. Inerrancy is simply infallibility applied to the entire intent of the author. That is, inerrancy says that the word of God is accurate in all matters which it intends to articulate. This of course means not interpreting it in our own categories or according to our own criteria. It means, rather, believing the scripture exactly as it was intended to be believed by its authors. That to me seems like the most reasonable and charitable way for us to handle their work. And, it seems the most reasonable way for us to submit to God.

We can't find God's intent in some other realm other than the intent of his prophets and apostles. If we can, where is that realm? How do we extract God's meaning if we bypass the intent of the inspired authors?

sujomo said...

See http://berithroad.blogspot.com/ for a comment on John 10:34.

Not only is Scripture written phenominologically but it speaks to readers of all backgrounds (ie whatever their 'scientific' world view. It speaks to those who hold to the 'phlogiston' theory as well as to those who put their money on "string theory". The main reason the theory of biological evolution is popular is that it purports to explain the diversity of species. But it is non falsifiable as it is one extrapolation after another.

Aquinas said...

OK--well, I agree, I would not see suggesting Jesus was wrong in the John 10.34 dialogue as an option for the believer and thus one has to either:

1.reject John 10.34 as authentic
2.reject the inerrantist interpretation of it in favour of another (like the one I suggested)
AND reject the idea that Jesus' words demand inerrantism.


I agree that inerrantists will accept that there are texts we can't reconcile but there is an obvious other option aside from invoking a promissory future explanation which would be, at least, to concede that its possible there are errors! It would be irrational to exclude that option! So the real issue here is to ask on what basis we are forced accept inerrantism?

Douglas---you have not yet really addressed why you think

a) how scripture outlines the inerrancy of its totality?

b)why this matters given that i) we all know there are no extant inerrant MSS anyway and ii) most believers use translations which are necessarily interpretations and not the exact wording etc.

Do you also hold to plenary verbal inspiration?

Further: is there not a risk in light of biblical criticism etc that by insisting on versions of inerrancy we are putting unnecessary pressure on believers' faith? Are we not in danger of driving a wedge between people's doctrine and what they can see is so---and thus causing them to feel a need to jump the other way too far (eg Bart Ehrman etc)?

Hope you don't mind me pressing you on these.

Regards,

Aquinas

Aquinas said...

@sujomo:

I disagree---I used to reject macroevolution but it was interesting dialoguing a little with Simon Conway Morris (Christian evolutionary professor of Paleobiology at Cambridge Uni) and also the newer genetic evidences which seem to be confirming the idea of a tree of relationship between species. Unfortunately while most Christians in science are pro-evolution most Christian literature doesn't adequately dialogue with the best material and some of the YEC etc material is positively deceptive and skews results (pious lies?). However...I am not bothered which way the evidence leads...we must just be committed to following it not ending it to a pet interpretation of scripture lest we ring scripture into needless ridicule 9as Augustine warned).

sujomo said...

Hi Aquinas,

Thanks for your comment but I remain unconvinced by macroevolution. But that is by the by.

The issue is interpreting Scripture seen through the filter of our contemporary world.

For example, it was argued that the 480 years of 1 Kings 6:1 was a round figure for 12 generations. If 25 years were used instead of 40 years for a generation then an early 13th cent date for the Exodus was arrived at which, it was argued, was closer to interpretations of 'archeological evidence' (rather than a mid 15th century date if 480 was taken as a literal figure). But that was the popular archeological understanding of the time.

Let's not be over hasty to unwittingly allow what is the current popular scientific theory to influence how we read and understand Genesis 1-3.

cheers, sujomo

Aquinas said...

sujomo....OK--It's not a big deal at the end of the day. I think I would be keen however to at the very least understand Gen 1-3 in its cultural settings (Walton's work is excellent in this regard) showing parallel's with the Jerusalem temple, the priesthood etc. (See John Walton's:-http://www.amazon.co.uk/Lost-World-Genesis-One-Cosmology/dp/0830837043)---an eye-opener for those who think its a scientific tract!

Michael S. Harmon said...

Unfortuantely, I do think is this a big deal... just not in the same way as those who want to punish conscience. As someone who respects the Reformed tradition quite a bit, I think "Fundamentalist Resurgence" is definitely correct: http://wp.me/pD15c-7K

Most Reformed throughout history have not needed to be Fundamentalist, and there is a good amount of Reformed people now who are not, as well. Having been friends with and taught by Tremper, I find this abhorrent. Neither Waltke nor Longman are even professing that fundmentalist interpretations are incorrect (which would be uncharitable as far as God's lordship over conscience). They are merely protecting the conscience of those who hold different interpretations, based on the genre of ANE literature. To be honest, this is a bit like arguing whether Pip was just a symbol or a real person to Charles Dickens; he was probably both, and those who pick one side are only hurting the other.

This is sad, and completely unnecessary. Such, I suppose, is the nature of sin and self-righteousness in us.

Aquinas said...

Michael---

Yep...just watched Bart Ehrman debating Craig A Evans and its just so evident that some of his quitting faith altogther arise from having had an overly-simplistic view of the scriptures. Evans was very humble and gentle with him yet replied very well (eventually!--took him a while to warm up!). I think we broader Reformed (majority outside US? I'm in UK) need to start educating on this at pew level. How many evangelical students have had the shock of their lives first time they go to Uni and hear some challenging view on inerrancy ignorant of the FACT that the majority of faithful evangelical scholars (especially outside US) WOULD NOT sign something like the Chicago Statement! I agree with you---we need to stop making this a shibboleth and defining issue of orthodoxy. But...we do need to be men about it and expect to be asked to back up our assertions.

Aquinas

Phil Haines said...

Hi,

I was pointed in the direction of this blog this morning and have enjoyed reading it and thanks for your work.

I have a couple of concerns about the theistic evolution position and the implications for sin, Christology and Soteriology and would be grateful for some clarification from those who are more au fait with the position.

I understand the historicity of Creation, Adam and the Fall to be fundamental to the outworking of the Biblical revelation. According to Genesis, Adam was created in God's image and as such enjoyed a peculiar, even unique relationship with him. Adam was given the world and told to populate it with his seed. When he sinned and fell, each of the curses was related specifically to the blessings of relationship, seed and land. The curse upon Satan, promising the seed that would bruise his head presupposes all that had come before. These four matters then become are in embryo what was taken up more fully in the Abrahamic covenant and developed throughout the Scripture record. If you remove these essential elements you do not only do despite to the doctrine of creation but the means which God instituted to reverse the effects of the fall and what John describes as the works of the devil. Thus the whole biblical record (not only creation) must be called into question. Why was Christ required? In the 1st Epistle of John the writer tells us that Christ appeared to destroy the works of the devil, then what were those works?

While someone might say that this doctrine is not as important as Christology, it is fundamental for a proper understanding of it. Much of what Paul says is Romans is based upon creation/fall as historical fact. Whilst the discussions about erracy/inerrancy are important and what is meant by inspiration etc. However, it surely is merely an aside when you look at the biblical revelation as a whole and the implications for its teachings on Christ and salvation.

I have lots of questions and other points related to this. Many of them arise, I believe, from my ignorance of the theistic position. So I'll leave my contribution there.

Aquinas said...

Well Phil, I think your points are important in that there are certain correlations between Genesis’ teaching and then NT teaching in terms of the work of Christ.

The themes of seed, land and----actually I’d say rule / kingship---are there through Genesis and get picked up through the Pentateuch and transformed on into the NT. The Abrahamic covenant never really being properly fulfilled in the lives of the patriarchs or of Israel but only beginning to be through Christ.

The real question is: does the idea that the NT work of Christ fulfils the problems of Genesis depend on an actual historical Adam?

Now---aside from the matter of whether there was an actual man called Adam who was the first human being, it seems to me that all of the issues raised by Genesis still press us as descriptive of human need. The sin the exiles “adam” from the Edenic situation is the sin that exiles us from an Edenic situation—we experience being “in adam”---being those who follow that adamic pattern.

The book of Genesis in its early chapters is replete with symbolic numbers and symbolism that relates to the Jerusalem Temple and priesthood (read two evangelical scholars on this: British scholar--Gordon Wenham and US Scholar (Wheaton) John Walton). It seems to me to be very theologically etiological in nature (giving us a story about human nature / rebellion, human roles and responsibility and exile from God).

The NT deployment (at least theologically) of those early chapters (1-4…where “adam” is not a personal pronoun—in most accurate translations) really works without problem with adam / humanity as a paradigm of man whether or not we take into account a historical Adam in chapter 4.

So as a theistic evolutionist I can stand behind man being created in God’s image to rule and represent him (my process of his arrival on the scene is just different) and I can stand behind the idea ---in Genesis---that humanity has continually fouled up on God’s assigned role for them and that God has chosen to work out a solution to the general problem of the nations through the particular chosen of Abraham and consequently Israel. This has not been in any significant way successful until the coming of Christ---in whom we find people beginning to be not only forgiven but truly brought out of exile and into the promises of the New Covenant (which fulfil rather than displace the Old)---we are the children of Abraham (seed / offspring/ descendants)---the new humanity which will inherit the (new) earth (land) and who live in his rule extending his kingdom and will reign with him (rule / image fulfilment).

I’ve left loads of lose ends, but feel free to come back at me!

Regards,

Aquinas

Phil Haines said...

Thanks for your response Aquinas, I have a few questions arising from it if you don't mind.

How would you define the image of God in man when understood from the perspective of theistic evolution?

At what point did God reveal Himself to man in order that man would know that he was not living up to God's demands?

From your perspective, was there an historical fall?

What do you define as the sin which exiled "Adam" from the Edenic situation? I suppose a related question is: What is sin?

Scripture is full of passages which presuppose the Creation narratives as factual and I do believe that there is a inextricable link between the historical Adam/Fall accounts and the work of Christ and the effects of His work as elucidated upon by the Apostles but I'm sure we'll get to those points as the discussion develops.

I apologise for bombarding you with questions here. I think I need to understand how you define certain important points before I engage more fully in the discussion.

I look forward to your response
Regards
Phil

Aquinas said...

PART 1 Phil asks: How would you define the image of God in man when understood from the perspective of theistic evolution?
Firstly, let me set the way I read the context of the creation in which “adam” is set and what I believe is its theological significance. As we move from Genesis 1:1 to Genesis 2:4 we have a text that is very well structured with parallels and palistrophic chiasms (Wenham 1987) illustrating and reinforcing God’s establishing of the created order. In terms of the locus of the action of the creation days, it is noticeable that they have a poetic structure orientated around a mid-point “reversal” giving us:

Day 1: (heaven) light
Day 2: (heaven) sky
Day 3 & 4: (earth) land/plants / lights (heaven),
Day 5: (earth) birds and fish
Day 6: (earth) animals and humanity with plants for food. (Wenham, 1987, 7)

This is significant given that the seventh day is about God’s “rest”. Ancient Near Eastern temples were for divine “rest”, so Genesis 2: 2-4, by having the God “resting” on the seventh day, is likely making a statement about the cosmos as a Temple—a sacred space (Walton 2003) “heaven” and “earth” meeting and dwelling in harmony as the culmination of the Creator’s purpose.

Aquinas said...

PART 2 The Genesis 1 text on the image of God is paralleled by the creation “supplement” in Genesis 2 where we are told that “Yahweh God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and the man became a living being” (Gen 2:7). Walton points out that the idea of humanity as in the “image of God” is also found in Egyptian theology (not Mesopotamian) where in the “Instruction of Merikare” the god Re makes “the breath of life for their nostrils” (Walton, 2003). This connects with the ANE belief that images of deities were animated by the deity, in the ceremony of the “opening of the mouth” (Walton, 2003). What, then, is the Hebrew writer of Genesis 1:27 tipping at? Could this be a polemic against graven images (cf. Exodus 20: 4-5)? I suspect that we are being told we do not need idols since we are like God; we are the representatives of divine authority. Walton confirms that Egyptian kings were seen as the image of deity while in Mesopotamia kings set up their images to establish their authority (Walton 2003).
The image of God is---in my view, set in its ANE context---about human beings priestly role. If we see humanity –both men and women— as a living “icon” of the divine, carrying his rule into the world, how does that fit with gardening in Genesis 2? Why is the archetypal Man and Woman (note there is no personal name “Adam” at this point it just means “the man” (Hess 2003) placed in the Garden? Here, I believe, we see the Garden as a figurative picture into which the archetypal Man and Woman are placed. There are indeed real geographic references, but it is also replete with potent theological symbol:

“The garden of Eden is not viewed by the author of Genesis simply as a piece of Mesopotamian farmland, but as an archetypal sanctuary, that is a place where God dwells and where man should worship him. Many of the features of the garden may also be found in later sanctuaries particularly the tabernacle or Jerusalem temple. These parallels suggest that the garden itself is understood as a sort of sanctuary.”

Aquinas said...

PART 3 We may note the connection between the Tree of Life and the Menorah that stood in the Temple or the connection between the precious stones of Genesis 2: 12 and the stones set in the high priestly ephod or used to decorate the Temple (Exod 28: 9,20 ; Exod 25:7 ; 1 Chr 29:2) (Wenham 1987).
So, we have God making the cosmos his temple with heaven meeting earth in the “seventh day” , we have humanity as representatives of the divine who are placed within the divine temple (cosmos) and then a specific symbolic sanctuary within that that’s suggestive of the Jerusalem temple. The Garden of Eden, then, is quite possibly recalling the “Holy of Holies”—the sacred space where humanity can access the divine presence (Walton 2003). This, Walton suggests, is made more probable by the terms used seemingly to refer to agricultural tasks “till”(‘ābad) and “keep” (šāmar) (Gen 2:15) (Walton 2003). The image of God---in my view---in its Genesis usage is about priestly ruling—doing God’s will in creation.
Phil asks: At what point did God reveal Himself to man in order that man would know that he was not living up to God's demands?

From your perspective, was there an historical fall?
Interestingly, the terminology of a fall is not present in Genesis and really gives us false impression. I would say, if we want to speak of “the fall”, we’d be better tracing it across Genesis 3-6 culminating in the flood! Perhaps a “prolonged falling” might be better. It’s good to try and do “biblical studies” before we inject “church doctrine”—good reformation principle! Yes---from that point of view---Genesis is clearly suggesting a falling out between God and man and, of course, man and the woman—then men with men etc...a picture of degredation getting worse. I don’t think most Jews reading Genesis would be perhaps as struck by “the man’s” exclusion as by God’s regret at ever having made men (Gen. 6) the language there is powerful indeed. Was there a specific sin? Logically there has to have been a first sin doesn’t there ? Otherwise we end up with an infinite regression! I don’t think taking an actual bite of an actual fruit following the suggestion of the woman listening to a talking snake was the literal event—if that’s what you’re asking, Phil. I think that would be a naive reading of the text’s overt symbolism---and here Genesis reflects elements of Revelation most Christians would readily admit is replete with symbolism. Clearly, logically, however I can agree with you (I suspect) that there must have come a point when man—and, indeed, a man-- became a morally high-sentience being who committed a sin against what he knew—more than that—mankind (and particular men) gained a sense of the divine but began to turn away and sought to use their new-found awareness to exalt their will over the divine independently. In that way my view would fully square with biblical theology on the nature of man, sin, the need of Christ as redeemer and the need for forgiveness and a new / spiritual birth.

Aquinas said...

PART 4 Phil asks: What do you define as the sin which exiled "Adam" from the Edenic situation? I suppose a related question is: What is sin?
I guess see above—particularly my latter points. A scenario is being painted of why man reacts against God as he does—and I’d suggest it is written with the Israelite themes of exile, homeland and temple in mind. Sin? I like the way someone put it as the creaturely will acting in independence and against the will of the Creator. That, I think, puts it very well indeed!

Phil writes: Scripture is full of passages which presuppose the Creation narratives as factual and I do believe that there is a inextricable link between the historical Adam/Fall accounts and the work of Christ and the effects of His work as elucidated upon by the Apostles but I'm sure we'll get to those points as the discussion develops.
OK---Well...its worth further study and in particular how the adam motif is deployed. Is it always a matter a reference to a historical figure or is there something archetypal going on there where the story is a cipher in Jewish terms for “original humanity---as it was in the beginning”? We could get into matters of genealogies---but even here, as evidenced by the massively differing (and widely acknowledged by biblical scholars) accounts of Luke and Matthew---there are clear theological issues going on (eg Matthew’s obsession with the 14 generations and use of Hebrew gematria linking Jesus to the numerical value of the name of David). I think these things can be hugely more complex (whether we like that or not) than many proponents like to have it.
Phil, I appreciate your intelligent and important questions and clear willingness to listen and engage with alternative views. We might wish all Christians could extend the same courtesies and maturity.
God bless,
Aquinas

Phil Haines said...

Aquinas, Thanks again for your full and considered responses. It is going to take some time to assimilate the content of your replies and to put together an appropriate response. I am currently studying for my final exams (London BD) which are going to take place over the next couple of weeks, so if I am tardy in my reply it is for this reason and not because I do not want to continue this important discussion.
Like you I have no time for mud slinging in the context of Christian debate, even if in the end we do not necessarily stand where the other does.

Every blessing
Phil

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